Learning patterns/Meeting the learning needs of US public library staff new to Wikipedia with online training

A learning pattern foreducation
Meeting the learning needs of US public library staff new to Wikipedia with online training
problemPublic libraries and Wikipedia both are devoted to freely expanding access to information for all. However, the majority of US public library staff do not edit Wikipedia and 80% of US public libraries are small and rural, which means there are few opportunities to meet Wikipedians locally. How can an online training program effectively meet the learning needs of US public library staff new to Wikipedia?
solutionDesign and support an online learning experience using insights from the Wikipedia + Libraries: Better Together project.
created on04:41, 1 February 2018 (UTC)

What problem does this solve?


Engaging library staff to learn about and join Wikimedia’s movement for free knowledge makes a lot of sense: there are many thematic overlaps and alignments between these two communities and interest among both to build sustainable bridges. This learning pattern describes some key principles to keep in mind, along with examples and lessons learned based on the OCLC Wikipedia + Libraries: Better Together project, when designing and delivering opportunities for libraries to learn about the inner workings of Wikipedia, particularly when they may be unfamiliar with the technical and social aspects of Wikipedia and positioned in rural or remote areas.

What is the solution?


This learning pattern describes in broad strokes principles to consider when designing an online learning program for US library staff to learn Wikipedia basics and to connect those learnings to their professional practices, based on the learnings so far of the OCLC Wikipedia + Libraries: Better Together project.

1. Meet people where they are

Listen and understand perceptions of Wikipedia by the community you are reaching out to, learn the channels they use to communicate, and tailor your materials around their needs. Don’t assume that because something is already on Wikipedia they’ll know where--and why--they should access it.

Example: We discovered by administering ~1,400+ “pulse check” surveys and intake questionnaires that approximately 79% of US public library staff surveyed did not edit Wikipedia (or had tried once and given up), yet 90% indicated that it was relevant to their work. We also learned that many library staff communicate via very specific professional channels, such as listservs; surprisingly, a minority found out about our project using social media channels. So to best meet their needs, the project met library staff in the spaces they frequent and made sure our message was relevant to them and didn't go over their heads. This approach unfolded in two ways. First, in the recruitment and awareness-raising initiatives, we prioritized making conference presentations facilitated by the network of OCLC member libraries, posting information on library association listservs and utilizing the wide reach and reputation of WebJunction’s monthly newsletters. During our webinars and course experience, we sought to ensure busy staff members, who had varied levels of technical skill and confidence, were encouraged and felt valued. We gave them very specific instructions to help them learn. Rarely were participants given multiple choices on things to do, rather, they were asked to complete specific tasks and then reflect on their learning with their peers.

2. Show (don’t tell) libraries what success with Wikipedia looks like

“Wikipedia helps libraries do their jobs and achieve their missions.” When library staff hear this message from other library staff, they are more able to imagine themselves as engaging with it, too. Consider aligning the reasons for engagement with library definitions of success throughout an ongoing, positive learning experience to help skeptical newcomers picture themselves as Wikipedians.

Example: Our primary vehicle for helping librarians see themselves in Wikipedians was elevating the often invisible stories of public library staff who have already engaged with Wikipedia. Our project publishes a series of articles, Librarians Who Wikipedia, on WebJunction, the learning place for libraries. When we ran our nine-week training program, we featured six practitioner guest speakers. Listening and learning from the stories of these librarians and the communities they are embedded within was not just for our course materials; what we learned informed every aspect of the project design and helped us understand what success looks like for library staff. This is especially important for library staff who may not have the same training, background, or histories as Wikipedians from large urban areas. US public library staff may not have higher education degrees in library and information science, and 80% of public libraries are small and rural.[1]

Of particular interest to Wikimedians curious about how this approach works in action is our expansive definition of success: we showcased library staff successes with Wikipedia using stories and a vocabulary recognizable to their professional worlds. An example of this would be the experience of a librarian at Dallas Public Library, which we feature in an article on WebJunction and in a webinar. She hosted an Art + Feminism event at her library in March 2017 with two community partners. Considering only the measures of success often focused on by Wikimedians, theirs may not be a model event. There was not a high edit count, and because a number of edits didn’t follow Wikipedia’s best practices, many were later reverted. Yet, Dallas Public Library staff considered the event an incredible success.

What spelled success for this library and community? As the librarian explained: “We [as library staff] are committed to providing quality services, empowering members of our community and enhancing the information available on the internet. Doing outreach with Wikipedia brought all of that together for us. The event was a big success.” She was particularly attracted to the overarching values of Art + Feminism’s suggested direction for engagement with Wikipedia, which resonated with her library’s mission. Dallas Public Library staff also appreciated the opportunity to partner, and strengthen community ties with other organizations--outcomes that are not measured in edit counts. Finally, the event made space for rich conversations about library collections, notable women in Dallas, Texas, and patrons came and stayed all day. Wikipedia was both an end, but more importantly, a means to a rich and meaningful conversation between people at the library. So, had the project team defined success in terms familiar to Wikimedians, Dallas Public Library staff have felt their successes were marginalized and could be uninterested in contributing again; we would be looking past the important ways that Wikipedia allowed this librarian to meet her library’s mission and serve her community. By making space for library staff to share their stories in their own words, using their own measures of success, we widened the reach of the project and captured the attention of more library staff who were inspired by this report.

3. Have a plan to help learners figure out where they want to go on their own terms

Adult training programs are devoted to learning something specific; if you are going to take on the role of trainer, your role is to give adult learners the confidence and the specific information they need to figure out what they want to do, themselves, with that skill. In terms of outreach, this means you may need to adjust your expectations about what you want course participants to accomplish. Adult learners are often pressed for time and dropout rates in large online courses are high. To encourage library staff to continue, and to take action, trainers need to give them just practical information--not too much too overwhelm them--and the encouragement to help them have the confidence to make informed choices about how to apply their learnings.

Example: Guided by the principles of activity theory, the OCLC project and training sought to strengthen the professional development of library practitioners in an online "community of practice;" the course and webinars were a part of a larger suite of trainings and webinars available in WebJunction’s course catalogue for online professional continuing education. To encourage a large number of public library staff to participate, we opened the course to anyone with any level of experience and interest. Materials in the course covered a range of ways that library staff could engage and apply their learnings. After a broad introduction to the Wikipedia community, five pillars, and core content policies, library staff were given five example forms of engagement tracks they could consider taking (which were not mutually exclusive) into their libraries, to apply their learnings. The final assignment was to design a plan of action. This approach gave them very concrete steps to take to apply their learning, but didn’t assume we knew what they’d do: the actions remained in their hands. As described in our final report, we found library staff were enthusiastic adopters of multiple forms of engagement, with a majority aiming to do individual engagement work, such as “gnome” editing and train their colleagues. A smaller minority were interested in training patrons and running events.

4. Invite Wikimedians to learn alongside library staff, too

  • Don’t limit human-to-human interactions to in-person events; invite Wikimedians interested in building connections with library staff to participate in online courses and learning experiences.

Example: In our project, we sought to give Wikipedia a human face and help library staff see that there’s a community behind Wikipedia. However, the majority of our US public library staff course participants are from small or rural libraries; that meant there are no Wikipedians nearby to meet in-person. To offset this, we invited 15 Wikimedians to participate in our course as guides and learn from, and with, library staff. The Wikimedians shared insights, gave feedback, and shared stories of their own editing experience. This effort helped to make the large Wikipedia community a little smaller and more approachable for library staff, who were able to get to know Wikipedians by name over the duration of the course and understand the evolution of processes and practices on Wikipedia in a learning place.

Things to consider

  • Running a successful online training program requires considerable expertise, trust and experience. This project was made possible by the years of expertise and training infrastructure that OCLC’s WebJunction has developed to serve ongoing professional education and training for the library community. The production team for the webinars and training program was made up of six people.
  • Context matters, and what worked for US public libraries may not work for libraries in other places. We also found that what worked for libraries in urban areas often didn’t work for or wasn’t reasonable for libraries in small or rural areas. This is significant since 80% of libraries in the US are small or rural; as such, this LP is a suggested approach but not a guarantee or blueprint for success.
  • Partnering with organizations that have experience, communications “reach”, credibility and the trust of the members of the community that you hope to reach will be instrumental in ensuring that the target participants find out about the opportunity, and that they are comfortable and feel listened to.

When to use


This pattern is geared for Wikimedians, including Wikimedians who are library staff, interested in institutionalizing online training programs with libraries. Although the specifics of this pattern were developed and discuss meeting the needs of US public library staff new to English Wikipedia, the hope is that the spirit of the pattern will have broader applicability.


  • The material in this Learning Pattern was developed by the OCLC Wikipedia + Libraries Wikipedian-in-Residence, Monika Sengul-Jones, who developed the pattern by connecting project design with learnings from library staff involved in the Wikipedia + Libraries: Better Together project
  • This learning pattern was made possible by the Wikipedia + Libraries: Better Together project, supported by OCLC with funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and Wikimedia Foundation.



See also

  • Earlier versions of these learnings were presented at WikiCon North America and Wikimania in Montreal in 2017 (click on the links to access the presentations).
  • Monika Sengul-Jones describes project design and outcomes in an interview with Alex Stinson for the Wikimedia Foundation blog
  • Rachel Wexelbaum, an academic librarian and associate professor who participated in our project as a guide, motioned to her learnings from the experience in an interview with Alex Stinson for the Wikimedia Foundation blog


  1. Swan, Deanne W., Justin Grimes, and Timothy Owens. September 2013. “The state of small and rural libraries in the United States.” Research Brief, No. 5. IMLS. Accesed from: https://www.imls.gov/assets/1/AssetManager/Brief2013_05.pdf.